Beijing Stories: Julius Yego, The You Tube Javelinist, now gold medalist, by Elliot Denman


David Rudisha told me a story last spring about how he and Julius Yego did a decathlon together in middle school. " Julius beat me by many meters in the javelin." noted David. He laughed, " then, I lapped him in the 1500 meters." Rudisha told the story as if it were yesterday, and having fun with his friend was part of equation.

Julius Yego sure had fun last night, as he decimated the field in the javelin, giving Kenya its first medal in the event!

Here is how Elliott Denman sees the significance of the medal for the talented Kenyan thrower.


BEIJING - Bird's Nest Stadium-goers got to see and applaud what European audiences
have been seeing and applauding for eons.
Yes-yes-yes, yes indeed, a multi-colored spear heaved great distances by muscular men in
a meet staged under the lights Is a thing of great beauty and magnificent sport.
This was the Julius Yego-Ihab Adelrahman El Sayed-Tero Pitkamaki Show on Day Five of the
15th World Championships of Track and Field and what a rouser it was.
(a) Did it out-rouse the come-from-far-behind pole vault victory this night of Cuba's Yarisley Silva?
(b) Or the down-to-the-wire steeplechase win of Kenya's Hyvin Jepkemoi over Tunisia's
Habib Ghribi and Germany's Gesa Krause, the three of them just 14/100ths apart after seven
and a half laps?
(c) Or the session-concluding 400 final that saw South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk move up to
fourth on the all-time charts with his 43.48 win over the still-PRing LaShawn Merritt (43.65)
with reigning Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada (43.78) relegated to third?
(d) And did it overshadow the late-breaking news of two Kenyan teammates' banishment on
doping violations, at a place in time when it seems much of the media seems focused
off the track than on events actually on it?
The answer is a resounding - and rousing - yes-yes-yes-yes.
IMHO, this javelin final at the Worlds out-roused everything else transpiring
On Day Five, or the midway point, of these 15th Worlds. And much of the action of days 1,2,3,4 too.
Yego is pint-sized compared to his fellow medalists, who stand nearly a head taller.
But he outmuscled them with a right arm that's like constructed like a howitzer.
When he sent his spear off on a big-time blast and saw it plunk down 92.72 meters/ 304 feet, 2 inches distant onto the Bird's Nest grass, he took a little leap of joy, knowing it was something
very-very big.
And, thanks to good announcing, and first-class sightlines, so did every last Bird's Nest-goer.
And just how big?
Big enough to be the longest throw in the world for 14 years, and one that will
rank him third on the event's all-time list, back only of Czech Jan Zelezny (98.48 / 323-1 in 1996)
and Finn Aki Parvaianen (93.09 / 305-4 in 1999.)
We all saw it - yet could this story really be true?
Was it all a very big fairy tale?
A javelin thrower emerging from Kenya (where distance running has forever been king and little
else in the sport mattered) and beating the world ? Are you kidding me?
And for a sub-plot, one from Egypt (land of the pharaohs and pyramids and some pretty good
soccer in recent years) but never, ever much to speak about in track and field - and now taking the silver?
And both of them beating the best of Suomi Finland, where javelin throwers are treated
as rock-star royalty?
Orange Julius?
No-no thanks, make mine a Golden Julius.
"I've always like throwing things," said Yego afterward. "As a kid, I'd throw sticks and
stones. I could always throw them better than the other kids."
He eventually graduated to a "real stick" - a javelin - but had little more than
natural talent to guide him through lessons A, B and C.
Lesson D came via You Tube - action shots of jav greats Jan Zelezny and Andreas
Thorkildsen - and soon he was getting an even better hang of this spear-chucking thing.
And not long after he was competing in real track meets.
He emerged as Kenya's junior national champion and was soon off to get some higher
Education. The All-Africa Games of 2011 marked his first big win.
Two months of training in Finland paved the way to an Olympic-qualifying mark of
81.12, and that was his ticket to the 2012 London Olympic Games, where he made the final
and placed 12th.
By the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, he seemed destined to reach the
podium, only to be pushed back to fourth by Russian Dmitry Tarabin's clutch final throw.
But a Commonwealth Games triumph in 2014 gave him all the confidence in the world heading into this 2015 campaign.
So, there he was, basking in the evening spotlight at the Bird's Nest.
After fouling his throw in the first round - as Germany's Thomas Rohler led at 86.68 / 284-4 - Yego settled down to business in round two with an 82.42 / 270-5.
Still, he ranked just ninth heading into the critical round three, and if he didn't
beat the eighth-placer's 83.07 / 272-6 his night would have been over.
And that's when we all got to see The Big One.
He more than beat 83.07. He more than shot past seven others,
He sent it flying 92.72 and thus shot past the best efforts of every thrower of the
past 14 years.
The crowd loved it. Every appreciator of the jav game loved it.
Another thrower from an unlikely location - Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and
Tobago - had gone 90.16 at a Swiss meet last month to occupy second place on the
2015 world list heading into Beijing.
But nothing went right for him in the Beijing prelims and he wound up an
unhappy - and non-qualifying - 26th.
"Maybe track and field will get bigger in Egypt once they see we can
win medals," hoped El Sayed.
"Maybe we shouldn't have taught him so well," Pitkamaki might have said - but out of
political correctness wisely stopped short of saying. (There was some consolation in his bronze-medal
performance; he now owns a "complete set" of Worlds medals; silver in 2013 and gold in
2007 to go along with this one.)
"Maybe we better find guys like Julius Yego back home," some Americans scattered around the
Bird's Nest might have been saying.
Of the 45 men's javelin medals now awarded over these 15 Worlds, just two have ever
gone to Americans - Tom Petranoff's silver in 1983 and Breux Greer's bronze in 2007.
Maybe it's time some Americans started watching Julius Yego on You Tube.

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